Conservation in action in Seasons on the Farm agricultural education program

Last week, LGROW finished the first full year of our Seasons on the Farm pilot project at Plainsong Farm. This partnership between LGROW, Plainsong, Kent Conservation District, and Trout Unlimited involves 230 sixth grade students from Sparta and East Rockford Middle Schools in experiential, farm-based, sustainable agriculture education.

Through the program, students have visited the farm multiple times and in various seasons. There they have had the opportunity to learn new things and to put into practice what they are learning in the classroom. Over the past year, students have sown cover crops; planted and mulched (and tasted!) vegetable crops; built compost piles; identified and prepared sites for tree, shrub, and pollinator plantings; pruned forests and used branches to build structures for beneficial insects; learned how farms become Environmentally Verified; installed bird and bat houses to attract native species; taken soil samples; and more! In all these activities, they have learned how important STEM principles are to farming, and they have been exposed to a wide variety of career pathways. Ultimately, they have engaged in an in-depth, place-based learning experience that has helped build connections between these students, their food, and the communities they are part of.

In addition to providing students with a STEM-rich, place-based education experience, the Seasons on the Farm program is assisting the implementation of $2.8 million of agricultural best management practices in the Rogue River and Indian Mill Creek Watersheds through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Student work on the farm is preparing the property to act as a demonstration site for outreach to landowners in both watersheds regarding best management practices for protecting water quality. It has also led to students applying what they’ve learned to where they live and what they might do in the future. “I liked planting cover crops because our farm does that,” wrote one student on a program post-survey. “I learned that I like doing farm work and I am capable of doing it,” wrote another. When asked whether they had learned anything about themselves during the program, one student responded, “I found out that I like planting crops and I want to do it in the future.”

Woven throughout their work has been the theme of community service. Plainsong is a Community Supported Agriculture farm that practices charitable food donation in addition to selling farm shares, which has been an opportunity for students to learn how they can care for the community by contributing to local food systems. In post-program surveys, students shared how this experience has changed the way they look at food. “When we learned about the CSA, I learned that I don’t really pay attention to other people and how they eat,” wrote one student. Another shared that they, “learned that how people grow, take care of, and harvest foods makes an impact on others” and that “while working with others, we can all make an impact.”

“I learned that I am capable of making a difference in our community,” reflected a student from East Rockford Middle School. Thanks to the generosity and patience of Plainsong Farm in involving students in their farming, and to the dedication of conservation organizations like Kent Conservation District, Trout Unlimited, and LGROW, we are growing more than food for our community; we are growing the next generation of environmental stewards.

Eileen Boekestein